It’s also a time to look back at the history of blood collection in our armed forces, and the role it has played both on and off the battlefield.
Before World War II, the military did not have an organized blood transfusion program. Blood and blood products were collected from military personnel exclusively during wartime. When wartime needs could not be met, the armed services purchased blood from civilian agencies.
From the website of the Armed Services Blood Program, which has provided blood products to service members and their families for more than 60 years:
As casualties began to mount, demand overtook supply in the European theater… As allied troops pushed deeper into France and further from supply lines, a method had to be devised to get blood products to the front line. In 1944, the American military began to build up its airlift capabilities and blood was high of the list of items to be transported. Airlifting blood to forward locations proved to be the key innovation that changed the face of military blood delivery.
The military airlift became the vital link in getting blood supplies to hotspots throughout the Pacific theater. Forward bases received a constant stream of blood collected from troops stationed in Australia and New Zealand. During the Battle for Okinawa alone, 20,000 units were funneled through a central blood bank in Guam and airlifted to advance bases using local air services.
Roughly 12,000 Americans died taking the island and 60,000 more were wounded. Without sufficient amounts of blood in forward areas, U.S. forces would have lost thousands more.
Over the years, the Armed Services Blood Program has collected nearly 5 million units of blood to support United States military members, while civilian programs such as Lane Blood Center perform the same service for non-military populations.
Learn more and check out an interesting timeline of blood collection and use in the military by clicking here.